UNC athletic director responds to faculty statement on athletics and academics

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham has no problem with a recently released faculty statement about the relationship between athletics and academics.

That’s because the athletic department already follows the faculty group’s three “core principles,” he said.

An informal group of faculty released a statement Feb. 17 naming institutional openness, educational responsibility and mission consistency as principles the University should follow in the pursuit of athletic success.

“At North Carolina we do that very well,” said Cunningham, who became athletic director in November.

And for now, the faculty group’s only goal is to start discussion on the issue, a plan the athletic department also supports, Cunningham said.

“We’d like to talk about governance nationally and the role North Carolina plays in sharing that,” he said.

The authors of the statement said they will re-evaluate their plans after a UNC-sponsored panel on Feb. 28 entitled “Big-Time College Sports: What Needs to Change?”

“We want the large philosophical and structural issues surrounding college athletics to be on the front burner of the University for months or years,” said Jay Smith, associate chairman of the history department, who helped draft the statement.

Associate professor of maternal and child health Lewis Margolis, who also helped draft the statement, said there has been more tension between the academic and athletic issues of students based on changes in the athletic world.

One change is the realignment of conferences to increase television revenue, he said — a problem that could affect athletes’ ability to major in what they want.

“If athletes are not able to take certain classes like labs or classes at 9 a.m., that’s an impediment to their education,” he said.

Richard Southall, director of UNC’s College Sport Research Institute, said it’s not just the job of the athletic department to make those judgments about academics.

“In conversation with athletes, they recognize the difficulty in taking advantage of educational opportunities because of time constraints and commitments that have grown over the years,” Southall said.

The NCAA investigation of UNC’s football program is one factor that prompted the statement, Smith said.

“As college sports have become more commercialized and corporatized, there’s going to be conflicts,” Southall said.

Smith and Southall said it is possible to be nationally competitive in athletics while maintaining academic standards.

“We need to be as competitive as we can within the restraints laid down by academic integrity,” Smith said.

“Universities need to focus on their core missions,” Southall said. “We continually have to say, ‘OK, what are we about?’”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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